Tuesday, December 18, 2012

RLPB 190. Christmas heralds hope for the world

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 190 | Wed 19 Dec 2012

CHRISTMAS HERALDS HOPE FOR THE WORLD

By Elizabeth Kendal 

We are 12 years into the 21st Century; 64 years on from the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; 23 years past the fall of Communism in Europe and the end of the Cold War. Yet the world is not a safer place, especially for Christians. For while positives have progressed, so too have negatives. And while proud, self-sufficient humanity likes to congratulate itself on the positives, it is not very good at tackling the negatives. For decades now, dangerous religious nationalism has been building in post-colonial emerging democracies such as Sri Lanka, and especially India. It is 33 years since the successful Shi'ite Revolution in Iran and the failed Sunni Revolution in Saudi Arabia triggered the Saudi-funded global expansion of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism, which is pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, supremacist, imperialist and intolerant.

Yet these past decades have been decades of phenomenal Church growth, specifically throughout the non-Western world. In 1960 the Church was predominantly white, Western and middle-class. Today the Church is some 80 percent coloured, non-Western and poor. These Christians -- who include many converts -- live as counter-cultural, vulnerable religious minorities in increasingly hostile environments in states with poor human rights records. Yet their numbers still increase as the Church continues to grow despite everything the devil throws at it. And that brings us to the key issue: the escalating persecution we are witnessing is Satan's response to Church growth. 'For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.' (Ephesians 6:12 ESV.) Satan is fighting back as should be expected. So how should we respond to this? We are to respond with endurance (Hebrews 10:35-39), prevailing prayer (Ephesians 6:18) and steadfast faith (Isaiah 30:15) in the one who secured our victory by means of the cross.

This year multitudes of Christians will be celebrating Christmas behind barricades and with armed guards to prevent terror attacks and mob violence. Those of us who are accustomed to worshipping in freedom can hardly imagine such a scenario. This year the Indonesian government will heighten security 'in seven areas believed to be prime targets for terrorist attacks ahead of the Christmas and New Year celebrations'. The areas which will receive special attention are East Java, Central Java, Jakarta, North Sumatra, Central Sulawesi, Bali and Maluku. From 23 December 2012 to 1 January 2013 'police will heighten security at the 38,499 registered churches across Indonesia' (Jakarta Globe). Instead of celebrating Christmas outdoors as they like to do, most Christians across northern Nigeria will remain inside their churches, behind the barricades and armed guards. The general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Musa Asake, expressed anxiety about the prospect of Christmas bombings and appealed through CBS News for Christians to pray that 'the Lord will intervene to protect churches'.

One of Iraq's leading Shi'ite clerics, Ayatollah Ahmad Al Hassani Al Baghdadi is currently in Syria, supporting the jihad against Assad. He has just issued a fatwa labelling Iraqi Christians as 'polytheists' [because they worship a trinity] and 'friends of the Zionists'. He has decreed they must choose 'Islam or death' and that 'their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims'. This fatwa may well increase the likelihood of a terror attack against Iraqi Christians this Christmas. Also it is difficult to imagine that foreign jihadis in Syria will let Christians gather and celebrate Christmas in peace and with security when their intention is to eradicate Christianity from the whole Middle East. In totalitarian states such as Eritrea, Algeria and all through Asia, Christians worshipping in unregistered ('illegal') house fellowships will worship, as usual, at risk of arrest. Christians in Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Maldives and India will also worship at great risk, while Christians in Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea will worship in total secret and near silence.

But worship and celebrate we all will, for we celebrate the coming of the one who changes everything: Jesus Christ, son of David, Son of God. He came to redeem his people and establish his Church. What started with a band of disciples -- most of whom were martyred -- he has built into a Church that is hundreds-of-millions-strong. What is more, he is building still and Satan, though he fight with 'the energy of despair', cannot stop him. Though this relentless battle leaves us weary, Christ is resilient. Though we bruise like fragile reeds and fade like spent lanterns, the promise is that Jesus Christ, the Lord of Hosts, will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth (from Isaiah 42:3,4). The one whose coming we celebrate at Christmas is the one who in grace gives strength to those who will trust him, that the battle might be turned back. He is the one in whom we hope. Yes, Christmas is worth celebrating, for Christmas heralds hope for the world.

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A CHRISTMAS PRAYER FOR IMPERILLED CHRISTIANS
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As we lift our hearts and hands to the God of all Creation,
we confess that our hearts are heavy with anxiety for our persecuted fellow believers;
we confess that our hands are empty for there is nothing material that we could offer that could stop the violence.


But come we do, because we know that while we are limited, you our God are not; for you are the Almighty living God (Psalm 77:10-13) and nothing is impossible for you (Luke 1:37). Indeed you are willing and able to do abundantly more than we could ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
 

We come because we know that you love us with an everlasting love; that you speak, work and rule in our interests; and that you are 'for us' (Psalm 56:9) and one with us (Romans 6:5), having been given to us (the Church) as our head (Ephesians 2:22).

And so we cry to you:
May the Lord of hosts himself guard his churches and secret fellowships this Christmas.
May the Holy Spirit draw all imperilled believers into prayer, trusting that you will answer as soon as you hear it (Isaiah 30:19).
May the name of Jesus Christ be exalted throughout all the nations with songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One (Isaiah 24:16).


AMEN 


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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

RLPB 189. Christmas in the free West

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 189 | Wed 12 Dec 2012

CHRISTMAS IN THE FREE WEST
-- where repression looms as God is forgotten
By Elizabeth Kendal 

Secularism essentially mandates the separation of Church and State. It ensures that the Church does not rule over the State (as happened when Popes ruled over states in the Middle Ages) and the State does not rule over the Church (as happens in totalitarian states even today). Traditionally secularism mandates openness wherein all views can be explored and tested in liberty and with security. Movements that seek to eradicate Christianity from the public square are usually driven by cultural totalitarians seeking to remove something they despise and recognise as a threat. Religious repression in the West is mostly led by atheistic humanists who are embarrassed by, ashamed of, or in denial about the West's Christian foundations and heritage. The aggression and shrillness of this intolerant and repressive 'new secularism' leaves many Christians shocked and intimidated. What is required though is courage and conviction: not to cling to tradition; but to assert confidently the value of those Biblical truths that make Judaeo-Christian culture truly great.

In Sweden, whilst public schools are by law non-confessional, Advent services are part of the compulsory curriculum. In an effort to balance Sweden's Christian cultural tradition with the 'new secularism', the government has ruled that Advent services be held -- for the sake of tradition -- but without prayers or any mention of Jesus -- in deference to 'new secularism'.  Because there is as yet no law regulating what a pastor can say inside his own church, the school principal will bear the responsibility. Consequently, if the pastor will not consent to presenting a prayer-less and Christ-less Christmas, the principal must decide not to have the compulsory Advent service in the church.

Last year the Scottish government promoted a 'Winter Festival' program, highlighting the main events of the Scottish winter -- Christmas was not included. In January 2011 the European Union (EU) Commission issued three million secondary school diaries which detailed Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Chinese festivities and Europe Day, yet made no reference to Christmas or Easter. Responding to complaints, an EU Commission spokesman said that in the interests of political correctness, future school diaries would make no references to any religious festivals.

Unless there is a return to the Lord, Western civilisation as we know it will perish -- a consequence of forgetting the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). 'And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. (v19)' Actually, it would be good to see a spiritual struggle for Europe, for at present Europe is in fact surrendering, ashamed of its own Christian foundations and heritage. Should the West continue down this path, it will reap cultural collapse and chaos, to be countered through desperate totalitarianism and appeasement of the most belligerent. Indeed, the process has already begun. The West urgently needs revival. (See: Not Ashamed)

'For whoever is ashamed of me [Jesus Christ] and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.' (Luke 9:26 ESV)

'So everyone who acknowledges me [Jesus Christ] before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.' (Matthew 10:32,33 ESV)



PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* use this Christmas season and even the 'new secularist' opposition to acknowledging Jesus Christ:
  •  to impassion Western believers, infusing them with a fresh realisation of what they are celebrating, whom they are celebrating and why all this is worth celebrating.  
  •  to awaken Westerners to what they will lose if they do not 'wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die . . .' (from Revelation 3:1-6 ESV)
* in his grace and mercy bless the West with revival, so that Christians might overflow with passion, zeal and boldness to declare, despite hostility and in the face of opposition, '. . . I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .' (from Romans 1:16 ESV)

* accept as an offering the risky, counter-cultural gospel witness of his faithful ones, blessing it and using it as seed for revival and to bring many who are new to the West to faith in Jesus Christ.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTMAS IN THE FREE WEST

Whilst public schools in Sweden are by law non-confessional, Advent services are part of the compulsory curriculum. This year, however, the government has ruled that, though the Advent services are still compulsory, in public schools they must be Christ-less and prayer-less, to try to balance Sweden's Christian cultural tradition with the 'new secularism'.  Last year the Scottish government promoted all Scotland's winter festivals except Christmas. This year the European Union Commission published three million secondary school diaries that detailed the feasts, festivals and holidays of all faiths except Christianity, even omitting Christmas and Easter. The West has forgotten the Lord. Revival and returning to him are urgent or else anti-Christian repression, intolerance and hostility will only escalate.  Please pray for a Christmas awakening in the West.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Announcing: Turn Back the Battle


Elizabeth Kendal's book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today, is now available on Amazon.

Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
By Elizabeth Kendal
(Deror Books, 6 Dec 2012)

A website by the same name, Turn Back the Battle, will be up and running shortly.

A Kindle version of the book should be available by the end of the month.

There will be an Australian launch early next year, from which point the book will also be available through Australian Christian booksellers such as Koorong Books, United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) and others.

This book is an offering to the Lord. Please pray that God will take it and use it for the benefit of his Church and the glory of his name.

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The product of nearly four years' labour, Turn Back the Battle arises out of Elizabeth Kendal's passionate interest in and growing concern for how persecuted Christians and their advocates respond to suffering, persecution and existential threat. The book is informed by Elizabeth's nearly15 years of service in the cause of international religious liberty and the persecuted Church.

In Turn Back the Battle, Kendal brings Isaiah 1 - 39 to life and applies it to the 21st Century Church. She juxtaposes Judah's situation in the latter part of the 8th Century BC with our own. For like our own times, the times in which Isaiah lived were times of immense regional volatility, soaring geo-political tensions and gross insecurity. Twice, Judah was invaded by hostile forces threatening occupation, regime change, death and captivity. Indeed it is the politically and militarily-charged context that makes Isaiah's call to trust the Lord so profoundly radical, incredibly challenging and hard to swallow.

But in Isaiah 7 - 39, God gives us not only theory, but precedent. For not only does he commission a prophet to instruct God's people on how they should respond to insecurity and existential threat, he provides a typological drama that illustrates the word and proves the point that God is alive and active in history. Through the historic narrative, which commences in 735 BC with the faithless King Ahaz and the Syro-Ephraimite war and concludes with King Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC, God illustrates, consolidates and demonstrates everything Isaiah says through his advocacy and his oracles.  

Each chapter concludes with a page of questions for personal contemplation or group discussion, as well as a carefully crafted prayer that applies the key lessons of the chapter.

A few selected quotes from the book:

In these darkening days of escalating persecution and insecurity, the church would do well to remember that real prayer is not only a critical and strategic element of the spiritual battle, real prayer is the highest form of advocacy and God’s ordained means of unleashing the forces of heaven. (From chapter 5)

When Isaiah approached the political powers in Jerusalem, he always did so as Yahweh’s ambassador, as Yahweh’s prophet, and never in the manner of a union representative. Isaiah presented Jerusalem’s political powerbrokers with the clear and simple word of God. He invested no faith in kings or political players per se. Neither did he invest faith in the power of weapons or funds or influence or projects that these political powerbrokers had at their disposal. His faith was in the Lord alone. (From chapter 8)

Christians have a freedom the world can only dream of. Because our God is the living, loving, sovereign, saving and eternally faithful God, the Christian is never condemned to fate. Jerusalem was doomed before Hezekiah prayed. But Hezekiah’s prayer changed everything. Hezekiah’s prayer marks the moment the crown of the Lord of Hosts was put on and the battle was turned back at the gate (28:6). (From chapter 11)

Selected quotes from selected endorsements:

In 'Turn Back the Battle' Isaiah's message comes through loud and clear. . . The lesson to be drawn for Christian work is not to rely on compromised human institutions to bring justice and freedom to a beleaguered humanity but to rely on God alone.
– Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue

. . . Elizabeth Kendal puts the current awful outpouring of violence, aggression and terrorism against the Body of Christ in its biblical context. She shines the light of God's Word onto the pain, the anguish and the disdain that God's people suffer. This book will reinforce your confidence in God's commitment to liberate his people. It explains why we need to focus on him in our darkest hour . . .
– Timothy O. Olonade, Executive Secretary and CEO, Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

'Turn Back the Battle' is a timely antidote against the belief that more activism . . . can substantially change the situation of persecuted Christians. Elizabeth Kendal's very readable book applies the message of Isaiah to believers today, to show that our faith must be in God alone, and our focus on obeying him before anything else. . .
– Jos M. Strengholt, Anglican priest in Cairo, Egypt

In this superbly written book, Elizabeth Kendal shows how the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah can equip today's Christians. It serves as a wake-up call for believers tempted by the attractions of an increasingly God-less world, and Christians living under oppression will draw great inspiration from it.
– Peter Riddell, Vice-Principal (Academic), and Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths, Melbourne School of Theology

'Turn Back the Battle' is an outstandingly insightful book which exposes global threats to Christian faith, religious liberty and human rights. As the foundation of our civilisation is shaken, and the Church faces life-endangering challenges from within and without, it calls us to ask ourselves in what and in whom do we trust. It proclaims that our ultimate security rests in Christ alone. It invites readers to a radical faith in God. The message of this passionate and prophetically astute book should be heeded by all Christ's faithful witnesses in this the 21st Century.
– Albrecht Hauser, Mission Secretary and Canon of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in W├╝rttemberg and a Trustee of the Barnabas Fund

Table of Contents:

     Introduction: You will have tribulation        
     John 16:33
1   Who will we trust?            
     Isaiah 2:1–4:6
2   Stand or stumble, the choice is yours         
     Isaiah 7:1–13
3   A paradigm for threatened Christians        
     Isaiah 8:5–17
4   Inquire of the Lord of Hosts                        
     Isaiah 9:13                
5   Forgetting God                                             
     Isaiah 17:1–11 & 28:1–6   
6  Yesterday’s faith is not sufficient for today 
     Isaiah 22:8–11 & 38-39
7   Christian security: not in ‘Man’                    
     Isaiah 22:15–25
8   Christian security: not in the ‘City of Man’    
     Isaiah 24—27
9   Christian security: not in a ‘covenant with death’  
     Isaiah 28:9–22
10 Christian security: not in practical atheism      
     Isaiah 30—31
11 ‘In whom do you now trust?’                    
     Isaiah 36—37
12 Choose this day …                               
     Isaiah 34—35
     Bibliography & Abbreviations

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RLPB 188. Nigeria: the terror of jihad

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 188 | Wed 05 Dec 2012

NIGERIA: THE TERROR OF JIHAD

By Elizabeth Kendal 

As was reported in RLPB 187 (28 Nov), up to 20 Christians were killed and dozens wounded on Sunday 25 November in a twin suicide bombing at St Andrew's Protestant Church inside the Jaji military barracks in Kaduna. Investigations indicate that the bombers may have been residents of the barracks and might have built the bomb on site, which would explain why they were granted access to the church without being searched. This raises fears that other military establishments could be similarly targeted. That same week Boko Haram gunmen attacked the headquarters of the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Abuja, freeing 30 detainees and killing two policemen. Guards were under strict orders not to shoot. But Nigeria is at war! In Boko Haram's own words (29 November), 'Jihad [holy war] started now, jihad started now, O enemies of Allah.' 

On Saturday night 1 December a band of jihadists attacked Kupwal, a remote village in Chibok Local Government Area (LGA). (That is about 160km south of the Boko Haram stronghold of Maiduguri in Borno, Nigeria's most north-eastern state.) They invaded the Christian district and according to survivors entered 'carefully selected' homes, slitting the throats of the occupants. They then set fire to homes and sacked the whole neighbourhood to chants of 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is the greatest). [See Qur'an, Sura 7:4 ] At least 10 people were killed whilst dozens escaped with serious and life-threatening injuries. Observers believe Boko Haram was either responsible or at least complicit.

On Sunday morning 2 December, some 50 Islamic gunmen in cars and on motorbikes attacked a police station, immigration and customs offices and three churches in Gamboru Ngala, Ngala LGA. (That is 140km north of Maiduguri, Borno State, near the border with Cameroon.) Before launching their attack, the jihadists destroyed the mobile phone masts to prevent communication and so compound the crisis. With shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' they opened fire on police, killing five. The churches were torched and Christians living and doing business in the border town were targeted. About two weeks earlier, leaflets had been distributed in which the Islamists declared their intention to impose Taliban-style rule, e.g., women were told to wear the veil and cigarettes were banned. A tailor was subsequently shot for continuing to make clothing the Islamists deemed un-Islamic.

In a 30 November column, author and analyst Raymond Ibrahim explained why persecution such as that described above is 'Islam's Achilles' heel'. Persecution committed by dominant Muslims in Muslim communities -- i.e. Muslims who cannot claim to be 'oppressed' or 'aggrieved' -- against vulnerable minority Christians is simply impossible to justify. Such persecution exposes Islam as supremacist, totalitarian, intolerant and imperialistic; as a movement that will not rest until the 'other' is totally subjugated. 'And to Allah prostrates whoever is within the heavens and the earth, willingly or by compulsion, and their shadows [as well] in the mornings and the afternoons.' (Qur'an, Sura 13:15)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL --

* rise up on behalf of his traumatised and terrorised people and intervene to rout the enemy and deliver his Church.

'And he [King David] said, "The LORD has burst through my enemies [the Philistines] before me like a bursting flood." Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim [the Lord  who bursts  through]' (2 Samuel 5:20b ESV).

* bring healing and comfort to his bleeding, broken and grieving people; may he provide all their needs and make his loving presence felt so as to sustain their sorely-tested faith, that they might be 'more than conquerors through him who loved us' (from Romans 8:31-39 ESV).

* give the Nigerian authorities divine wisdom and insight, strength and commitment that they might excel in their battle against the enemies of the state and the enemies of the LORD.

* re-assure the church in northern Nigeria of his protection who is their 'strong city' (Isaiah 26:1). May the church in the south, and indeed the rest of the world, join this battle by praying for the north (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11).

* bless every Nigerian missionary and every witnessing Nigerian with divine courage and power from the Holy Spirit, for this is first and foremost a spiritual struggle (Ephesians 6:12).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THE TERROR OF JIHAD IN NIGERIA

A full-blown Islamic jihad is raging in Nigeria and it is terrifying for the Christians of the north on the front-line. On Saturday evening 1 December jihadists attacked the Christian district of a remote village in Borno State. Entering 'carefully selected' homes, they murdered the occupants before sacking and burning the entire neighbourhood to shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is the greatest). Ten were killed whilst dozens fled with serious and life-threatening injuries. On Sunday morning 2 December jihadists attacked another village in Borno close to the Cameroon border. With shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' they opened fire on police, killing five, before torching numerous government facilities and three churches. Only weeks earlier, Christians were threatened with violence if they did not leave the area. Please pray for Nigeria.